Vice-President For Torture

Cheneyalexwonggetty

Don't miss the second installment in the WaPo Cheney investigation. If you had any doubt that torture was in fact policy endorsed at the highest levels of government, against the law and against our treaty obligations, then read it. Now recall that almost all of the abuses at Abu Ghraib were in conformance with the new policy, adopted by the president himself:

The vice president's lawyer advocated what was considered the memo's most radical claim: that the president may authorize any interrogation method, even if it crosses the line of torture. U.S. and treaty laws forbidding any person to "commit torture," that passage stated, "do not apply" to the commander in chief, because Congress "may no more regulate the President's ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield."

That same day, Aug. 1, 2002, Yoo signed off on a second secret opinion, the contents of which have never been made public. According to a source with direct knowledge, that opinion approved as lawful a long list of specific interrogation techniques proposed by the CIA - including waterboarding, a form of near-drowning that the U.S. government classified as a war crime in 1947. The opinion drew the line against one request: threatening to bury a prisoner alive.

The story of how Addington and Cheney gutted the key protections against torture in the Detainee Treatment Act is fleshed out by Gellman and Becker with convincing clarity. They helpully chart Cheney's and Addington's tireless campaign to oppose all restrictions and then to get around the restrictions with legalistic loopholes, inserted at the last minute.

The only defense by Bush and Cheney against charges of war crimes is that a president definitionally cannot commit war crimes, if he's acting as he sees fit in the defense of the nation. It cannot even be deemed restricted to foreign lands - because Cheney's view of the war on terror includes American soil and allows the president to detain and torture American citizens. As such, it is a doctrine completely toxic to democratic self-government and to the entire principle of a president obedient to the rule of law. It is tyranny - enabled by lawyers. It is really stunning in retrospect how adamant Cheney is on this, and how utterly contemptuous of public and world opinion he is. It is almost as if torture is his primary weapon in the war. You get the distinct sense that, in wartime, he finds democracy itself repugnant. The feeling, Mr Vice-president, is mutual.

(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty.)